One of the most frustrating things about Portland’s current traffic culture crisis is that we have a proven tool that would go a long way toward fixing it, yet the City of Portland has been extremely slow to use it. I’m talking about automated traffic cameras, or what the Portland Bureau of Transportation refers to as “speed safety cameras.”
Since the first one was installed in 2016, they’ve worked very well. But a variety of factors has led to a maddening lack of implementation. Fingers have been pointed at a problematic vendor, camera procurement problems, technical (electrical) issues, the bottleneck caused by the Portland Police Bureau’s involvement (an issue that is behind us thanks to recently passed legislation), and as we reported via a city audit in 2015 a lack of cross-bureau coordination might share also some of the blame.
Regardless of the reasons, Portland has only installed nine cameras at five intersections in the past eight years.
But there’s reason for optimism! Not only did PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps recently promise to double the number of cameras currently in use in the next year, but a high-level PBOT staffer revealed at a meeting Thursday that cameras will be coming to new locations including 82nd Avenue and Powell Blvd.
Here’s the story…
With frustrations over record traffic deaths, falling cycling rates (due in large part to fear of dangerous drivers), and a “revenue crisis” gripping PBOT (more on that later), it wasn’t a surprise when a member of the PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee (BBAC) brought up the lack of progress on traffic cameras at their monthly meeting last night.
When BBAC member Josh Roll asked PBOT Traffic Safety Section Manager Dana Dickman for an update on the camera rollout, she gave the most thorough and candid response on this topic I’ve ever heard from a city staffer.
Listen to the full audio (or the edited text) below:
“I’m really curious on what the status is on the speed cameras systems…I feel like what I just keep hearing is, ‘Oh, it’s procurement. No, it’s, supply-side stuff. So maybe that’s just still the answer. But once recent legislation has gone through some of the logjam on that side of the problem has been resolved, so I’m just curious for an update.”
“I would say things are getting better… All the things you mentioned — procurement, contractor issues, siting issues — all those are real. I think everyone’s going to start to seeing significantly more cameras on the street this summer. We feel like we’ve overcome some of those barriers. I’m hoping that for the expansion we have planned that we are going to have all the cameras installed by the end of this summer. That doesn’t mean all of them will be operational by then, but we should have all of the cameras out on the streets.
I feel like we’re gonna see a significant jump in the next four months. Like, things that we had hoped we were doing over two years, we’re literally going to be doing in six months; but that’s okay because we worked through some challenges. I feel like some of the logjams, so to speak, are really loosening up and we do have the authorization to use non-sworn officers and we’re working through what that’ll look like within PBOT.
We figured out some of the challenging issues with getting power to the new cameras and some of the other technical issues. And we’re going to be able to get some cameras on corridors that we’ve wanted for a long time like 82nd and Powell and some places where the community and PBOT has wanted some additional speed enforcement and intersection enforcement for a long time.”
This is a very helpful assessment of what has gone wrong and what we can expect going forward. It’s also the first time I’ve heard of cameras coming to 82nd Ave and to Powell Blvd. Let’s hope Dickman is right and PBOT is finally ready to move forward more quickly.
For more on PBOT’s traffic camera program, including a partial list of new camera locations, check out their website. And if you see new cameras pop up in the coming months, please drop me a line so we can continue to track this important program.
So excited about cameras on 82nd and Powell. The recent changes to the light timing on 82nd have done wonders for reducing a majority of driver’s speeds. Even people that love to get to the red light first don’t do it at 45+ mph.
That being said when there isn’t traffic some people have found that if you go even faster than before you can beat the light since it’s timed for going right around the speed limit. It’s definitely made for some sketchy crossings early in the morning.
I know they like to place these at high crash locations but I’m wondering if they’ll do some sort of traffic analysis and also place some at common speeding locations. Placing them at popular pedestrian and cyclist crossings like greenways would be great too but I think that’s stretching the number of cameras a bit. Double sounds like a lot until you find out we only have them at 5 locations.
New speed cameras are a great idea. However, the speed camera on Marine Drive near the airport had it’s wires cut. I rode past it every week for two years during the pandemic, and it was never fixed. I haven’t been that way for about 3 months to see if it has been fixed. It’s time to fix what we have at the same time as adding new capacity.
It’s on my commute. I did notice what looked like cut wires a long time ago but flash bulbs still had power, so I told myself at the time it was old wiring. Around New Years a car completely took out the pole that all the cameras were mounted to and it hasn’t been replaced. Many street lights down around there as well.
Yep. I was out riding there Saturday morning and someone passed me going at least 60mph right by that former speed camera. Absolute lawlessness out there.
Marine Drive needs a complete re-design. Straight, flat, nothing to slow anyone down. A classic case of design affordance leading to avoidable death.
Sounds like there isn’t jurisdictional issues with PBOT putting cameras on ODOT owned streets? Hopefully that means more to come on other ODOT owned facilities.
I would hope you’re right. An ODOT-managed facility means that PBOT cannot change any part of its design or operation without ODOT’s approval, but that (logistically) shouldn’t affect enforcement in any way since ODOT does zero enforcement. With all enforcement falling to the City of Portland or county sheriffs, PBOT should (IMO) absolutely be allowed to install photo enforcement.
There’s no issue with that, they’ve been talking about one on Powell for a while now.
Good. I hope to see some enforcement of red lights too. If PBOT’s solution to intersection safety is going to be paint, ‘no turn on red’ signs, and bike signals, then there needs to be consequences for drivers who choose not to follow the rules.
If you don’t want to get a ticket then maybe, idk, open your eyes and pay attention while you’re driving?
So many of the vehicles I see doing the most dangerous things on the road do not have license plates. Any word on what the city plans to do to combat the fact that if you don’t have a plate on your car there will be no penalty for violating automated enforcement.
I agree, there are a surprising number of vehicles without plates, as well as a large number of clearly unsafe or emissions not compliant shit-boxes zooming around on a few cylinders w/o cats. Driving even a properly registered, licensed, and insured car is a privilege predicated on good behavior, not a right. And driving an unidentifiable or half destroyed car should be made effectively impossible.
I still think speed cameras would help, and when unidentifiable vehicles trigger the camera, log stats to strengthen argument for increased enforcement of missing identification.
One easy way to start doing some enforcement in my opinion would be to empower parking enforcement to call for immediate towing of any car without plates or plates that expired awhile ago. Don’t allow the cars to be released from impound without current title and insurance.
That’s a great solution. Prevents individual police officer racial/class/gender from playing into who gets pulled over and cited, and more importantly, removes unsafe vehicles from the road. An obvious win for people biking and walking, but also for attentive and cautious drivers who are terrorized by the same zombiemobiles on the highways.
The cameras won’t catch the many, many drivers currently driving around with no plates, or with covered plates. What’s the deal with all of the Teslas with covered plates? (plates covered by dark plastic so you can’t read the numbers). Does Tesla offer a cover as part of their standard purchase package? I’d support special police ops to nail drivers who cover their plates, or drive without any. They should automatically get the maximum penalty – no officer discretion allowed. These drivers know what they are doing.
I’d hope that with photo evidence of the frequency of plate violators, they’d do some stings starting with where they see the highest occurrences happening.
I really shouldn’t stereotype – but I think the venn diagram of Tesla owners and people who think they’re the main character is functionally a circle.
How can you get a ticket if you’re driving a stolen, unregistered car with no plates and a smashed up windshield that blocks you from the view of the camera, and blocks the view of the road from you?!
How many drivers who run red lights fit that description?
Good news. Now we need more viable alternatives to driving—and removing police from traffic enforcement. For parking and traffic offenses that are defined as civil infractions (not criminal), there’s no need to bring in a person with a gun and qualified immunity. Technology can be used to deter many traffic violations, and unarmed civilian (non-sworn) officers can handle the rest.
For the record, the recent legislation Roll mentioned was HB 4105, signed into law by Gov. Brown last March, which lets civilian officers monitor photo radar cameras and write tickets: https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2022R1/Measures/Overview/HB4105
When will they be installing the drunk driving cameras?
I guess as soon as you design a camera system capable of determining someone’s BAC while driving a moving car.
Well this is a start. Do we know how many duly authorized traffic enforcement agents the city of Portland has trained to take over the job of giving tickets from a speed camera.
I would really like to know how time in place corelates to the number of tickets issued. So my observations on fixed position cameras is that once the majority of drivers learn there location they slow down for the 1/8 mile of road so as not to get a ticket. Once past the camera they speed up. This solution does nothing to stop drivers from speeding except in the location of the camera. If Portland wants to use speed cameras for enforcement than make a mobile system where they can be placed at different locations. In order to stop drivers from speeding they must know that they can be issued a citation anyplace at anytime.
You say falling bike rates are “due in large part to fear of dangerous drivers” but the data you post in the link shows falling bicycle commuting rates correlate with increasing rates of people working from home, which intuitively makes sense when you think about the jobs many bike commuters have. A little more research over opinion would be helpful here.
Correlation =/= Causation
Did you notice that the decline started in 2016?
Anecdotally, in the year before I moved to Hood River in 2015, I definitely noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of close calls I had with people driving.
Parents in the ’00’s and ’10’s were saying that violent video games like Grand Theft Auto caused an increase in gun violence. I don’t think they had any idea of how rates of vehicular violence could perhaps also be impacted. I see so many drivers that seem to expect everyone to get out of their way…like they’re playing a video game.
How do traffic cameras work when a significant number of cars are running around without license plates?